James Williams, MEF: “Subscription-based payments are a real game changer, as they are exploding worldwide”

Sep 14, 2023

The Emerging Sportech Opportunity


We interviewed James Williams, Head of Delivering Insight, Impact and Interaction across the Mobile Engagement ecosystem of the Mobile Ecosystem Forum. A few years ago, we had the opportunity to interview Dario Betti, CEO of the MEF, to give us his vision of the industry at that time.
Next week, we will be with James and MEF in Amsterdam to attend the Global Carrier Billing & Mobile Payments, and we wanted to take the opportunity to feature him in our blog.

1) What is MEF’s biggest goal?

Like a coin, there are two sides to what MEF does: providing a neutral environment that fosters cooperation between all types of stakeholders across the wider mobile ecosystem to grow both their businesses and the wider industry on the one hand and, on the other, to protect stakeholders of all types from fraud, always protecting, mobile subscribers in particular. Both are critical to MEF’s success, but of the two, I’d say that protection angle edges it and is critical to building and maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

2) How do you see the mobile industry shaping up ten years from now?

Connectivity and who will have access to it will be the key. There’s so much chat about things such as 5G, the metaverse, etc., but central to the future and the mobile industry today is who has access to basics such as the internet and at what price. Mobile data (for example) in sub-Saharan Africa is some of the most expensive in the world. Yet, we all know how integral internet and mobile access are to the general development of countries and businesses.

There is so much more that needs to be done to ensure real equality in access, and more needs to be done in this area. I’m seeing some real disparities growing worldwide regarding internet access and other forms of connectivity, and we all have to be mindful of that. It’s lovely talking about trendy new things at conferences, but we have to double down and get the basics across the board. And we just aren’t doing that. But every cloud does have a silver lining…

That silver lining here is innovation. People might need access to the internet, but in its place spring up a whole range of innovative services based around (for example) SMS text messaging. Think mobile money, which first sprung to prominence in Africa. No bank account, no access to the internet, no problem! SMS fills the payment void. Now, that is true innovation. It’ll be very interesting to see the level of innovation in 10 years!

3) Which countries will lead the way in subscription-based payment in the future?

MEF carried out its research into the area of Payments each year. Of all the countries surveyed, China and South Africa stand out, where subscribers feel comfortable paying for things via mobile. But subscription-based payments are a real game changer now, particularly when intelligently bundled, and subscriptions are truly exploding all over the globe. The key factor I am seeing is trust. Mobile network operators, who generally have some of the most trusted brands globally, are increasingly getting into the game and seeing the opportunity. They’re offering content from global brands we all know, helping subscription-based payment become the norm for so many millions of people globally. This is forming the foundation for growth.

“I’m seeing real disparities growing worldwide regarding internet access and connectivity. It will be important to ensure real equality in access, and more needs to be done in areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where mobile data is one of the most expensive of the world.”

James Williams – Head of Delivering Insight, Impact and Interaction at MEF

4) What has been the industry’s biggest challenge in recent years?

Consumers worldwide need to feel protected, that the organisations they receive goods and services from can be trusted and that their governments are doing their bit to regulate the whole market, but there must be a pragmatic approach. Knee-jerk reactions, often perceived as excessively overreaching regulation, can stifle or kill whole industries, so we all need to keep a good avenue of communication open between all. This is exactly where neutral trade organisations have a huge role, bringing all to the table to discuss issues and educate – exactly like MEF does!

In addition, things like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) framework across the EU are often used as reasons for some organisations not being able to share certain types of data with others to provide collaborative solutions aimed at protecting subscribers. It’s so easy to say “No” to something and lay the blame at the door of the likes of GDPR when the fact is that under closer inspection, regulation does indeed allow it.

Technology is coming on in leaps and bounds, and new services are being created constantly. It’s tough for reasonable regulation to keep pace with it all, and we’ve collectively got to step up our work in educating regulators and governments, too! Regulation is with us, but we can shape its future and ensure it is truly fit for purpose. After all, what’s the point of regulating a sector into extinction? No winners there.

5) How do you value Telecoming as a partner of MEF?

MEF has seen rapid growth in the past couple of years, and I’m pleased to write we now have well over 200 members worldwide. And MEF is very happy to count Telecoming as one of these! It’s important to have members from all areas of the ecosystem, and having Telecoming with us brings a super strong sportech monetisation edge to the organisation, which is both super interesting and fun!

6) If you had not been in this sector, where would you have liked to have ended up?

I got into Mobile more by accident than design many years ago, but my life could have gone many ways. After university, I had various offers in radically different sectors, and I have a soft spot for a truly cutthroat industry – the world of commercial airlines! I’m a bit of an airline and frequent traveller programme nerd, admittedly and am enjoying getting out and about everywhere again, meeting people in the real world!

7) Is travelling and attending events a big part of your job?

I’m admittedly not the youngest person in the industry now (30+ years working in Mobile tends to have that effect…), and travel has been a huge part of my roles over the years – and this continues to be the case! I see many people returning year after year to the same events who feel more than a little jaded by things, tired of the same events and the constant travel, but not me! I still get a buzz buzz and bring energy. It’s great meeting people in person, and no matter what technology brings, nothing furthers a business relationship more than getting the opportunity to meet somebody in person, share a drink or bite to eat with them and talk business, of course, somewhere along the way!

Although the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) is not an events company, MEF runs many events globally, providing many opportunities for our members to engage with each other and the wider ecosystem. And, of course, so many other organisations run events, too, which means I spend a fair amount of time on the road. Sure, it is an important part of my role with MEF as Director of Programmes, but I continue to enjoy it.


Stay tuned!

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